Little could take over an OL Reign match.
And she will again.
The Reign overshadowed themselves Sunday by announcing at halftime of their game against the San Diego Wave the return of one of the most prolific goal-scorers in Scottish international Kim Little. The midfielder was picked up via loan from Arsenal Women and will be available for selection for the Reign’s match against Angel City FC on June 18 at Lumen Field.
Reign general manager Nick Perera made the on-field announcement, the crowd of 5,712 cheering in response. The team capped the day with a 1-0 win against the Wave.
“I’ve dreamt of this moment since the second she left,” said midfielder Jess Fishlock, who played her 150th career NWSL match Sunday, all for the Reign. “The beauty about this is it’s not just big for this club. It’s huge for the league, it’s huge for Seattle as a city because there will be loads of people that remember those times and there will be loads of people that are like, ‘I’ve heard about her, but I just need to see her.’ I’m kind of fangirling right now; I just (expletive) love Kim.”
Little, 31, initially played for the Reign from 2014-16, leaving as the NWSL’s leading scorer with 32 goals and 16 assists. She was named MVP of the league in 2014 when the club won the Supporters’ Shield, and she helped the Reign win the Shield in 2015.
After a brief loan to Melbourne City FC, Arsenal lured Little back to England, where she first played for the club from 2008-13, with a lucrative multiyear contract in 2017. Little suffered multiple injuries, undergoing foot surgery in 2020.
The playmaker still started 69 of her 73 appearances for Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, bagging 27 goals and captaining the team. Arsenal won the WSL title the 2018-19 season.
“I always knew there was an itch for her to come back, it was always a matter of timing of when we could make that work,” Reign coach Laura Harvey said. “She’s one of the best players in the world, in my opinion. In this past year watching her play at Arsenal again, she’s back in the form that we saw of her in that 2014-15 period when was just unplayable. Being able to bring someone like that back into this club shows our ambition.”
The Reign played the Wave without leading scorer Megan Rapinoe (40) because of a back injury but is overflowing with players who can find the back of the net even without the addition of Little.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle had the game-winner Sunday, heading home a goal in the 75th minute off a free kick from defender Sofia Huerta.
“I’ll never score a goal like that again,” Lavelle said of diving to connect with the ball.
Lavelle is one of seven internationals the Reign could lose this summer because of qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
CONCACAF hosts its tournament July 4-18 where Lavelle, Rapinoe, Huerta and defender Alana Cook could be called up for the U.S. Canada will likely call on midfielder Quinn while defender Jimena Lopez could represent Mexico. The 2022 Copa America Femenina runs July 8-30 and Reign midfielder Angelina could be called up for Brazil.
Little previously stated she won’t vie for a spot on Scotland’s World Cup roster, making her an elite replacement while the Reign internationals are on duty.
“(Kim) will help our young players,” Harvey said. “Being able to train with her every day and watch her play games, they’ll learn a lot from that. I could wax lyrical about how amazed that I am that Kim Little is coming back to this club, because it’s a big deal.”
Little puts a spotlight on the Reign’s offense, but the defense is proving to be equally strong. San Diego, which has a NWSL-leading 12 goals this season, had their strongest challenges in the closing eight minutes of Sunday’s match.
Reign keeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce confidently made the two late saves. The shutout is her fourth consecutive clean sheet.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the back line,” said Harvey of the defenders who helped keep U.S. international Alex Morgan to two shot attempts in the first half. “Anyone who wants to tell me Alana Cook’s not world-class isn’t watching the same game that I’m watching. But Quinn and Olo (Olivia Van der Jagt) were really big (too) and we needed them to be.”
The Reign (2-1-3) travels to play the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday. The Wave (4-2-0) have a road game against the Kansas City Current.